A man mourns outside the apartment where Philip Seymour
Hoffman was found dead in Manhattan, New York. REUTERS/John
The death of renowned character actor Phillip Seymour
Hoffman of a possible heroin overdose is shining a spotlight on
an epidemic of opiate addiction that has soared over the past
Heroin has made a comeback after a decade-long outbreak of
narcotic painkiller abuse. The prescription pain pills, such
as OxyContin, are opioids that produce a potent high similar
to heroin if abused.
As authorities crack down on pain clinics that prescribed the
pills by the thousands and pharmaceutical companies change
their formulas so the pills are more difficult to abuse,
opiate addicts are turning to cheaper and plentiful heroin.
An 80 mg OxyContin pill can sell for up to $100, while a
five-dose-a-day heroin habit costs less than $60, according
to federal law enforcement officials.
In recent years, the number of people abusing prescription
pain pills has dropped steadily as heroin use increased. The
number of people 12 and older who regularly abuse OxyContin
dropped from 566,000 in 2010 to 358,000 in 2012, the National
Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in December. The
number of regular heroin users soared from 239,000 in 2010 to
335,000 in 2012, the survey found.
In New York, where Hoffman lived, heroin is readily
Last month, Drug Enforcement Administration agents shut down
what they described as a "high-volume" heroin mill in a
Bronx, N.Y., apartment where they seized 33 pounds of heroin
worth $8 million and hundreds of thousands of tiny glassine
bags stamped with "brand names" such as "NFL," "government
shutdown," "iPhone," and "Olympics 2012." DEA agents believe
the mill supplied heroin dealers throughout the Northeast.
"A seizure of this size should open everyone's eyes to the
magnitude of the heroin problem confronting us," said New
York Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
Nationwide, law enforcement, political leaders and health
officials have sounded an alarm over heroin.
In Vermont , Gov. Pete Shumlin devoted his entire annual
address to the legislature last week to heroin addiction,
which he said had reached crisis levels in the state.
"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug
addictions threatens us," Shumlin said. "What started as an
OxyContin and prescription drug addiction problem in Vermont
has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis."
In Pennsylvania last week, Attorney General Kathleen Kane
warned the public about bags of heroin branded as "Theraflu,"
"Bud Ice," and "Income Tax," that contain a deadly mix of
heroin and the prescription narcotic Fentanyl, often used as
a last-resort painkiller for cancer patients.
The deadly combination had been lined to 22 deaths in Western